Osteopathy was founded by Dr Andrew Taylor Still in Kansas, USA in 1874. The ideas that Dr Still put forward still form the basis for osteopathic treatment today. Our knowledge of how the body works has grown immensely since that time, shedding further light on Dr Still’s original observations.
A primary osteopathic concept is that our structure (anatomy) and function (physiology) have an intimate relationship. Each individual has an optimum alignment of their tissues, whether these be organs, muscles, bones, blood vessels, nerves or connective tissue. When tissue alignment is maintained, the body functions well maintaining good health. Altering the alignment compresses or stretches adjacent tissue affecting their function. This may lead to poor health.
An example of how structure affects function: a tight muscle may compress surrounding blood vessels. This restriction of blood flow means that the tissues they supply receive less blood. This may only become obvious when this distant tissue starts to cause pain or fails to heal adequately following an injury. The muscle contraction (a change in structure) has affected blood supply to a tissue (a change in function).
This examples serves to show how structure and function have a combined influence on our health. The task of the osteopath is to facilitate these relationships allowing the body to restore and maintain its own intrinsic health.
Osteopathy has a long tradition of viewing symptoms in the context of the whole body. When a patient arrives with a problem the osteopath will want to find answers to several issues.
What is the cause of the pain? Is it local or distant? Why has this problem arisen now? Very often the patient is aware of the cause but is unaware that an injury has occurred. In seeking to find an answer the osteopath will consider the influences of posture, work and leisure activities, together with physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Osteopathy has become well known for its treatment of back problems, however many people are surprised to discover that a wide range of conditions are amenable to osteopathic treatment. Osteopathy may be of assistance with joint problems throughout the body. Muscular aches and pains are also common conditions that present and can be successfully relieved with osteopathic treatment.
The following list includes conditions amenable to osteopathic treatment under current advertising guidelines:
- Arthritic Pain
- Muscle spasms
- Inability to relax
- Aches and Pains
- Digestion problems
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder)
- Minor Sports Injuries
- Osteoathritis of the Hip/Knee
- Acute/Chronic Neck pain
- Rheumatic Pain
- Joint Pains
- Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epidondylitis)
- Acutne low back pain
- Neck related headaces or dizziness (Cervicogenic)
- Knee Pain
- Whiplash Associate disorders
- Circulatory problems
- Shoulder girdle pain
- Chronic low back pain
The Background History to Osteopathic Healthcare
Osteopathy aims to be a preventive form of healthcare through restoring tissue mobility. Regular osteopathic “check-ups” may bring considerable benefit allowing the early detection of any tissue restriction before any symptoms have appeared.
Visiting An Osteopath
On the first visit to your osteopath, a full history will be taken. This will include the nature of your symptoms, how they are influenced and when they began.
To put this in perspective your osteopath will also ask about any previous symptoms. These may have a bearing on the current situation. Notes will also be made on your medical background including details of any medication or supplements you may be taking.
This will be followed by a physical examination. The examination may include orthopaedic, neurological and circulatory tests together with an osteopathic assessment of your posture and how your body moves. For this you will be asked to undress to your underwear and to perform some simple movements. If necessary x-rays, MRI scans or other medical tests may be requested.
Osteopathic treatment generally takes place with the patient seated or lying on a treatment couch. Osteopaths use their hands to assess and then treat congested or flaccid tissue using a wide repertoire of techniques. These techniques are aimed at relaxing or stimulating muscles and other soft tissues, and allowing joints to move through their full range of motion.
At the end of the treatment, your osteopath may recommend particular exercises or give advice on how to support the healing process.
The number of further treatments will depend on the nature of the complaint. Generally longer standing conditions need a longer course of treatment. Your osteopath will discuss this with you at the end of your initial appointment and review your progress regularly. Subsequent visits will include a short reassessment followed by the ongoing treatment.
Osteopaths – Primary Health Care Practitioners
Patients are able to refer themselves directly to an osteopath. This often happens on the recommendation of a family member, friend or colleague. The General Medical Council also permits General Practitioners (GP’s) to refer their patients to a Registered Osteopath. As a patient you are free to tell your GP or medical advisor that you are receiving osteopathic treatment. With your written consent the osteopath can also release details of your treatment to doctors or other health care professionals.
Osteopaths are fully trained as primary health care practitioners. In the event of discovering a problem that is unsuited to osteopathic treatment they will seek your permission to refer you back to your GP and encourage you to see them at an early opportunity.
In 1993, osteopathy became the first complementary health care profession to receive statutory recognition. The Osteopath’s Act established the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) which maintains a statutory register of all osteopaths eligible to practise. The GOsC also determines the Standard of Proficiency required for the competent and safe practice of osteopathy. It is also a legal requirement that all registered osteopaths in practice carry professional indemnity insurance.